OK, so I think I’ve calmed down enough to write this now.
Today was the North Tyneside 10k race, my first ‘proper’ race and so (for one thing) I was guaranteed a Personal Best so long as I actually finished.
The race started at 10am, but I was up at 6am, too full of butterflies to lie in. I paced the kitchen drinking coffee and juicing whatever fruit and vegetables came to hand (lime, apple, tomato and carrot as it turned out, and not a bad combination either), the re-packed my bag and checked I had top, shorts, shoes, etc. and all the other obsessive checking things that my brain could think of (checked the Metro was running today – I checked last night, but you never know, they might have cancelled it on a whim at midnight. Turned out that was not the case).
Come 8:30, I was all ready and packed and off to the Metro station to wait for the train. There were a few other runners on the Metro so I gave them a jaunty nod of “I know what you’re up to this morning” and sat down. Ten minutes later and we’re at North Shields Metro station.
Now, I’m not a veteran at these things, as you’ll have picked up from the second paragraph, so I have no idea how one is supposed to behave – I walked down to the Parks sports centre where the race was kicking off, and contemplated my choice of a vest in wet, cold, drizzly conditions. Just getting inside the lobby of the centre, packed with runners, was a bit of a relief – should I change and put my longsleeve on? Nah, that’s not the Geordie way, however I did resist the urge to take the vest off, given it wasn’t snowing, which might have been the proper Geordie way.
A bit of hanging around, a pre-race wee and it’s all good, I head outside to find out the drizzle has stopped, so big tick for vest so far.
There’s a long bit of path to the start line, so I wander along, bumping into Jon from work. In a crowd of thousands a single friendly face is a marvellous thing. He’s much fitter, lighter and faster than me, so we chat while the race is prepared, knowing that he’ll be off like a hare once the whistle goes. My GPS won’t get a signal – that’s not going to be good, but like an expert IT technician, I turn the GPS off, on again and then give it a shake. Normal service is resumed.
Only it’s not a whistle to start the race, it’s the Elected Mayor, counting us down to the start. There can’t be that many races started by an Elected Mayor, so that has to count for something, and she does a flawless job.
The race is off!
With a little way to go until I reach the Start marker, I start the GPS anyway, so it’ll record how far I go and how long it takes, as that’s the idea, surely? The first bit is along the streets of North Shields, and the sight of a few thousand people jogging along must be pretty odd – it certainly looks that way to me from somewhere in the crowd. A bit of jostling as some faster chap pushes past, and we’re at the top of Borough Street, a steep hill down to the riverside.
I ran this bit of the route yesterday to try it on for size, so it’s not new ground to me – the downhill is pretty pleasant in a “let gravity do the work” kind of way, and we’re down the riverside road, running towards the Fish Quay. Possibly the most surreal moment of the day is two runners who come past us in the opposite direction, they probably thought they had the world to themselves until two thousand people rounded the corner coming towards them – that they didn’t run away says something for their moral fibre.
Along the Fish Quay, and there’s still a lot of bunching, and I’m doing some silly kind of pace, so I purposely slow myself down a little. Don’t want to conk on the first couple of kilometres, and there’s still the hills to come. Mentioning which, at the end of the Fish Quay we get a good sight down the river and can see the harbour walls and the innocent little cut up the hill at the end of the land a good way off. The road along the promenade is narrow, and there are spectators on there and some benches, so it becomes a bit of a chaotic positioning affair – one person stops abruptly with an undone shoelace, one person nearly takes out the lady next to him swerving to avoid a chair he hadn’t noticed – I run to the left side and don’t overtake – it seems the safest way. Shortly, we reach the end of the promenade and it’s time for the hills. Now I’ve practised these, and for me it’s little steps that get me through, running all the way – same rhythm, but teeny steps. A lot of the runners pound off up the hill, some never to be seen again, but a number of them to be seen quite quickly as they walk up the rest of the hill. First one out the way, and the little drop to the next one – stretch my legs a bit.
Second hill, the big one, but you can see all the way up it. Small steps, lots of walkers now, and I’m overtaking a few folk, not that I’m too bothered about that – I wanted to encourage some of them, but wasn’t sure if that’s the done thing or whether I’d get a smack in the chops for it, so I don’t. Top of the hill and that’s about heavenly – a lot of the group I’m with seem to be slowing, recovering I guess, whereas I’m off with a spurt, happy to be able to lengthen my stride. More pace-watching and holding back, as it looks like I went off a little too fast from the top of the hill.
It strikes me that this is my run, my route, the route I run 90% of the time, and I know it quite well now. I’ve got used to where the slight inclines and slight dips are, where the bollards are and where the wind can catch you. With that in mind, I mentally try to man up and show the world what I’m made of. Past the Toy Museum and the water station, and through the obstacle course of discarded bottles. Seriously – people could have put them in the large brown bins provided? I don’t know whether a lot of people suffered after having a drink, I know I can’t drink much straight water without getting a stitch, but all of a sudden I’m overtaking people. Not many, and not quickly, but I’m noticing that I’m in a group where I’m outpacing quite a few. Check watch, and no, I’m not overdoing it. Into Cullercoats now, and I was expecting Jacqueline to be along at the cafe, so it surprises me (in a nice way) that she’s not as far down the road – I spot her with the camera and smile for my picture. It’s not hard, I’ve been smiling for quite a while now, as it turns out I’m quite enjoying myself.
There I am, in me vest and shorts, number obscured and smiling like a fool. Maybe that’s my running face, who knows. I asked afterwards, whether I “looked like a runner”, and was told that I “looked like someone running”. I think that’s in the middle between “non-runner” and “professional athlete”, or so I’m telling myself. Good bit of camera work here, by the way, though I have cropped out the lady further to camera right, who (while I’m sure she’s a lovely, fabulous and talented person and runner) had the most distracting expression I’ve ever seen.
Through Cullercoats and along towards the bottom of the road I usually start and end my runs on – reaching that means I’ve gone “a long way” and have maybe 3km to go or thereabouts. It’s an interesting sign at a 10km race that they put up mile markers. I’m not saying that’s not useful, but to my mind a km marker would give you a simpler percentage-based position of how-much-done-how-much-to-go than the imperial to metric in-head calculation hell that is miles.
OK, we’re doing well, my pace is good, my time is fine, my legs are still there, it’s not raining and I just have to get to the lighthouse now. This is a meat-and-veg (or perhaps nut-roast-and-veg) run for me, it’s one of the left/right/into the sea choices that I get to make when I start each day’s run. I really like the run along the promenade, the dip by the Spanish City, and the run past Panama Dip and along past the Mini-Golf – not crazy golf, it’s not that wacky, but it’s not a full-size golf course either. After the slight incline past Panama Dip, it’s a half kilometre of flat and lovely pavement to the lighthouse, so I figure I can push the pace a bit and make up a bit of ground. It seems to work, I’m actually weaving in and out past people now, feeling like a running god or at least a slightly fitter running human. An ambulance goes past, lights and sirens, and I hope whoever its going to is OK – a little bit further there’s a chap sat by the side of the path – he looks OK, but fingers crossed.
I pass Caroline from work, who’s out cheering someone on, and Richard, who I used to work with at Newcastle – it’s all feeling pretty good and I’m tanking my way towards the finish line. As I come in, Jon cheers me on, having finished a while earlier. I cross the line and join the queue – ta-da! Thirty seconds or so pass and I remember to stop my GPS – it now shows I’ve run 10.5km, which is a little further than expected. Queue, queue, queue, number taken, pack picked up and there we go.
Hang on, there’s no medal? Hmmm. At least I’ve got the t-shirt. Oh, it’s a t-shirt, not a North Tyneside 10k t-shirt. Oh well. Not to worry – when the official time comes through, I can use that to prove I completed the race and collect the sponsorship – or Jon can vouch for me if need be.
Right, time to walk home, except J has parked up by the finish, and come to meet me – it’s lucky we bumped into each other as I’d turned my phone off at the start – a walk to the car and home via the only Sainsbury* open in order to by eggs and buns so I can indulge my craving for a fried egg sandwich. Mmmmm, recovery food.
Right, race number one done, Personal Best in place, next up is the Blaydon Race – got a song to learn for that one… 🙂
Distance: 6.52 miles
Av. Pace: 9:00/mile – and I didn’t collapse!
Climb: 144 ft – mainly up past the priory
*Other over-priced Express Supermarkets are available. Mind, it’s in Sainsburys that I heard one chap complain about the inflated prices – the lady working there won my admiration with her response “you have to pay for convenience you know”. Brilliant.